Sam Darnold, Jets

Jets need to make huge strides this season… or else

The New York Jets haven’t won a playoff game, or reached a playoff game, since the combination of Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez was deemed a good one.

Yes, it was 2011, and New York had just knocked off the 14-2 New England Patriots in the Divisional Round. The Jets were the talk of football. Now, they are simply trying to be respectable again.

New York has a promising second-year quarterback in Sam Darnold. It has a new head coach in Adam Gase, who went from curious choice at the moment of his hiring to national joke after taking over as interim general manager for the fired Mike Maccagnan.

Then there’s the free-agent class. Perhaps no team added more talent in free agency than the Jets, who signed running back Le’Veon Bell, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. They had also signed outside linebacker Anthony Barr, only to see Barr back out of his agreement and return to the Minnesota Vikings on a four-year deal.

With training camp about to get into full swing, New York has actual expectations for the first time in years. While nobody believes the Jets are going the Super Bowl or winning the AFC East, there is a thought they can finally compete for a wild card spot. If that doesn’t happen and the Jets fall flat, there’s reason to think Gase could be short-lived in New York. Additionally, should Darnold struggle and Josh Allen takes real steps forward in Buffalo — or Josh Rosen proves his mettle in Miami — the consternation will be real.

If the Jets are going to play meaningful football throughout December, everything starts with Darnold and Gase. Unlike last year, New York has real weapons for its quarterback including Bell and Crowder, alongside receivers Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson. It’s not the Greatest Show on Turf, but it’s a quartet of capable players.

With the Dolphins in full-0n rebuild mode and the Bills still working their way back to being a playoff contender, the East’s second-place slot is wide open behind New England. The Jets should be able to slide into that spot and arguably achieve much more. If they can’t, Gase’s questionable hire is going to be seen in an ugly light, while fans of Gang Green begin clamoring for change again after a lost decade.

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